I'm a bit sad this evening 'cause a had to say good-bye to a very good companion, a terrific one, who has filled in my repetitive routine with refreshing enterteinment. It's impossible not to be amused at listening to her singular idiolect and her humour is irresistible. I'm talking about Bessy Beckley, Irish but living in Scotland , only 15 years old but so experienced of the ways of the world. This extraordinary girl is ... the protagonist of the book I have just finished reading, THE OBSERVATIONS by Jane Harris. I found it extremely entertaining and, for a couple of weeks, I've taken it with me ,in my bag, wherever I went: I've read it queuing at the post office, watching my students while they were writing their monthly test (not a very good idea, though), visiting my mother and sitting by the fire with her. And all the time, I'm sure, I had an idiot ( to the others) smile on my face.

So what exactly is so special about the book? Well firstly, it does tap in to my great interest in historical fiction, being set in Scotland in 1863. A number of authors have made the most of our fondness for a gripping story set in Victorian times, but Jane Harris has really achieved creating the liveliest heroine I've met in a book since long . Bessy is picaresque, as funny, street-wise and involving as Lope de Vega's Lazarillo de Tormes.

Harris's mastery at inventing Bessy's voice, her unique way of communicating bluntly with a very personal idiom, is undeniable. Bessy herself recognizes, towards the end of the story, that her writing skills have improved and this is evident through the pages of the novel: "I do believe my style may have improved as the months went by but I am aware that there are still some mistakes for unless I keep my wits about me I tend to write as I speak". Yes, this is the sensation I had, that I was exactly "hearing" her voice speaking to me, just to me, in a secret mysterious way.

I don't want to tell you more than this... If you are curious to discover more about Bessy's life you could

1. Buy the book on line and read it CLICK

2. Read this interview with Jane Harris CLICK

3. Watch this interview with the British writer CLICK

4. Read some good reviews HERE , HERE and HERE

Books have been a recurrent theme today. For instance two of my students and I spent our mid-morning break discussing about their loving to download and save e-books in their computers and my preferring to buy books, real printed ones, I mean , and collecting them.

Books are objects belonging to our tradition, to our culture and I love their smell, I enjoy choosing them in big bookshops or on line, to guess their content from their covers, to touch them... not so much to dust them ! Jokes apart, I want to leave you with a beautiful passage from one of the best book about books, Ray Bradbury's FAHRENHEIT 451 (1954)

Guy Montag is a fireman who burns books in a futuristic American city. In Montag's world, firemen start fires rather than putting them out. The people in this society do not read books, enjoy nature, spend time by themselves, think independently, or have meaningful conversations. Instead, they drive very fast, watch excessive amounts of television on wall-size sets, and listen to the radio on “Seashell Radio” sets attached to their ears (Doesn't it sound familiar?)

Montag has started being troubled by his harsh task of burning books and has decided he wants to discover more about these forbidden dangerous objects. Moreover, he feels there's something missing in that dystopian society but does not understand what it is exactly. So he goes to Professor Faber 's and asks him . This is the Professor's answer.

"Three things are missing. Number one: Do you know why books such as this ( the Bible) are so important? Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean? To me it means texture. This book has pores. It has features . This book can go under the microscope. You'd find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion. The more pores, the more thruthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more "literary" you are. That's my definition, anyway. Telling detail. Fresh detail. The good writers touch life often. The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

So now do you see why books are hated and feared? They show the pores in the face of life. The comfortable people only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers instead of growing on good rain and black loam. Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth. (...) Well, there we have the first thing I said we needed. Quality, texture of information.

"And the second?"


"Oh, but w've plenty of off-hours"

"Off-hours, yes. But time to think? If you are not driving a hundred miles an hour, at a clip where you can't think of anything else but the danger, then you're playing some game or sitting in the same room where you can't argue with the four-wall televisor. Why? The televisor is real. It is immediate, it has dimension. It tells you what to think and blasts it in. It must be right. It seems so right. It rushes you on so quickly to its own conclusions your mind hasn't time to protest, "What nonsense!"


"Would books help us?"

"Only if the third necessary thing could be given us. Number one, as I said, quality of information. Number two: leisure to digest it. And number three: the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two."

(from Ray Bradbury, FAHRENHEIT 451 , Flamingo Modern Classic, pp. 90-92)



Mo said...

You always find interesting books. Saw someone that must be related to you in xford St the other day. Walking down the road reading. Now that is multi-tasking.

Maria Grazia said...

As soon as I am in London I'll try to have a walk in Oxford Street, then! I love books and if I find any interesting one, my suitcase will be heavier on the return flight...By the way, great photos every day! I like them very much.

Anonymous said...

It seems a very riveting book! I'll add it to my looong to be read pile! I have just finished "Jane Austen for Dummies" written by Prof. Joan Klingel Ray. Very enlightening! Have you read it?

Maria Grazia said...

No, but I've noticed it looking for books about Jane Austen and her novels at Amazon.com. I haven't bought it but ... Do you think it is worth reading? Thanks for passing by, Loredana. Have a nice weekend!

Anonymous said...

"Jane Austen for Dummies" is a very interesting book. It's full of informations about JA's life, family, novels, historical ans socio-cultural context, all the things you need to know to better understand the genius of this simple but strong woman. Sometimes it can be a little bit "boring", if you know JA well. You might find a lot of well-known things in it (well-known for a fellow Janeite of course!).
My next reading will be the 1st issue of the P&P's Marvel comic book !! I am waiting for it directly from USA and I am all anticipation!
Have a nice week-end

Maria Grazia said...

Ok!!! I'll try to get it. I love collecting books and DVDs. And I'll try to read it, too, of course!

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